Ghost on the Shore

In an instant, my hands knew the earth.

Cold, resistant stones nearly shot upwards to meet me, the weight on my shoulders lifted and thrown three feet to my front. Dirt and debris riddled the inside of my nails while semi-frozen mud adhered firmly to my skin. I rolled over onto my back, propping myself up with my elbows in hopes of seeing what I believed I just saw.

Image – Hanging Rock at sunset

It was the root that did me in, or so I thought. Venturing down the Magnolia Springs trail, amidst the tangled rhododendron, I could not help to stare longingly into the progressively setting sun. Slight glimmers of evening light bounced off the neighboring trees to illuminate small patches of earth along the surface. It felt as if someone had poked holes in a darkened box to allow fragments of intense glow to guide the way. The trail circuitously wound through these beacons of light, guiding a seamless descent into the quiet valley below.

Image – Lake in the fog

Rounding a sharp corner, I reached out to grip the trunk of a slender white pine. As I clenched around the overlapping bark, my eyes caught glimpse of a dim figure to my right. Shrouded in fog it was clear they were close, although from my distance I could see nothing distinguishing about them. A glimmer of reflecting light averted my eyes from the figure; a loud cracking thud brought them back. A sizable branch from a chestnut oak plummeted to the ground, flattening the space where I thought the figure once stood. They had vanished, taking my balance with them, and in an instant, I too felt a collision.

Image – A peaceful forest

My palms were dirty and my thoughts ran heavy. Who were they, and where did they go? My pace hastened to match the fleeting day, my heart racing faster than the beat of a raven’s wing. Perhaps it was the darkness, perhaps it was the light, but I could not shake the feeling of being watched. I gripped my pack tighter and began leaping over stones along the path. I felt eyes everywhere, an unnerving feeling when deeply alone amidst the frozen understory. I hustled across a narrow bridge and burst forth into the open forest below, leaving the tangled rhododendron behind. As I held my knees and struggled for breath, the eyes lingered, and the darkness thickened.

In an instant, my heart knew the earth.

What waited for me that evening was a scar. A bruise left untreated that has spread like a curse throughout this land, one not commonly observed in the careful folds of the crimson peaks. In an instant, I had fallen. These mountains I wander through were named for the Saura Indians, who historians believe to be the first inhabitants of the region. Also known as the Cheraw, the Saura lived intimately with the Dan River by utilizing its nutritious qualities and transportive abilities. Saura ancestors were believed to have migrated to Hanging Rock prior to any European contact, creating two large village complexes known as Upper and Lower Sauratown. They grew corn by the river’s edge and hunted bass and bream throughout the year. Seasonality played a critical role in their food sources, especially given the abundance of acorn and hickory nuts in the late fall and early winter. By the 1670s, Saura tribes experienced regular encounters with European explorers who brought with them the onset of disease. Nearly every village post-exposure experienced large mortality rates, their very way of life altered in an instant.

Futures are always held in jeopardy. The ways we envision our lives proceeding are subject to an array of forces undeniably outside of our control. We are simply vessels adrift in a vast murky ocean, casting dim lights to guide our way through the darkness. In that moment, I found my connection to the land, a space marked with unspoken distress and complicated frameworks. My presence here is temporary, the figure remains vigilant. I may never know the answer, but at least I have found the tools to ask the questions.

In an instant, my mind knew the earth.

“I will remember the sight of the ghost on the shore”

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